I adore baking, always have, always will.
For the most part, I have been very happy with what I can find in Belgium as far as baking ingredients go. There are plenty of stores which offer large varieties of flour and tools, however, there is one way in which Belgium has left me a bit frustrated.
I swear, it seems like genuine extracts for baking are simply not a thing here. When I first got here, I searched every store I could think of in a 20 kilometer radius with the intention of finding the best price for pure vanilla extract. Most stores seem to only stock vanillin rather than true vanilla. That stuff is horrid! I mean, doesn’t anybody know where it comes from?!
In the end, the only place I could find real vanilla extract was at the local convenience store. Even so, a tiny little bottle cost 6 euros! Whatever, I thought, at least I know where to get it and I don’t really need to use it in that many recipes. I gradually started using whole vanilla beans in my baking instead of the extract because perversely, they were less expensive!
One day about two years ago, I went to the convenience store to stock up on my extract only to find that their last bottle was marked with a clearance sticker. I asked Annick, the owner, what the deal was and she informed me that they simply didn’t sell enough of it to keep it in stock.
Pinterest to the rescue!
I was astonished to learn that while it requires a lot of patience until it’s ready to use, vanilla extract is ridiculously quick and easy to make at home. Since that day, I’ve been making it myself.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- A knife
- A cutting board
- 2 dark glass bottles with stoppers (look in the beer aisle of your fanciest grocery store, some of the microbreweries use dark bottles with pressure caps and not only are these the best bottles to make extract in but the beer in those bottles is usually pretty tasty.
One bottle of cheap vodka, if you’re lucky enough to have a liquor store, ask the employees to help you find the cleanest-tasting of the cheap vodkas. Otherwise, the one that you can find at Lidl actually works quite well.
6 Vanilla beans
- Roll a vanilla bean in your palms to loosen the seeds.
- Cut it in half lengthwise
- Scrape out the seeds
- Put the seeds and the split pods of 3 beans into each bottle
- Fill the bottles with vodka to near the top (make sure the beans are covered)
- Close the bottles and store them somewhere dark and cool
Every day, take the bottles from the cupboard, shake them vigorously, and then smell the extract. You’ll know when it’s ready to use because the smell of the vodka will gradually be replaced by a strong vanilla fragrance.
Use this extract in all of your favorite baking recipes.
Now…why did I have you make two bottles?
As it takes a few weeks for the extract to brew strong enough for use, this first batch is the only one you will actually have to wait for! When you finish the first bottle of vanilla extract, add some new vanilla, refill the bottle with vodka and put it in the cupboard to start brewing. By the time you reach the bottom of the second bottle that you made, your freshly brewed extract should be ready for use. By using this system, I’ve had two bottles of vanilla extract rotating in my cupboard for a year and a half and have never run out.
This recipe is so easy to do that I find myself tempted to try making various other extracts. Perhaps some coffee beans in a bottle with vodka would make lovely coffee extract. Maybe some lemon or orange zest would make something tasty. Looks like I need to go out and buy some more tasty microbrew… for science, of course!